Skip to main content

Gilmartin, at MAS Summit; touts Gehry tower; Forest City signs on as sponsor; was summit about livability or competitive advantage?

Forest City Ratner's Frank Gehry-designed 8 Spruce Street, aka Beekman Tower, is truly a trophy for the developer--especially when there's no time for pesky questions.

n a five-minute presentation October 13 at the second annual Municipal Art Society Summit for New York City, Forest City Ratner Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin offered "Observations on the Making of a New York City Skyscraper." The blurb:
MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of commercial and residential development for Forest City Ratner Enterprises, will share with us the story of how the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere came to be. Designed by Frank Gehry, 8 Spruce Street is a singular addition to the iconic New York City skyline and tells a rich story of design and development.
It does present a rich story, and Gilmartin used her brief time effectively, but she also left some things out, as I suggest in my annotations below. Her presentation begins at about 16:40 of the video embedded below, which mostly features an interesting presentation by Anthony Malkin about renovating and greening the Empire State Building.



Great site, great architect

The first of seven ingredients, Gilmartin said, was a great site. "Real estate: location, location, location. One acre site, purchased from the New York Downtown Hospital," she said. "Over 800,000 square feet of zoning, no height restriction, great mass transit. Great location. First and foremost, the most critical thing to a development project: great location."

That echoed the famous statement by Chuck Ratner, CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises that the Atlantic Yards site was "a great piece of real estate."

The second ingredient: "A great architect. Perhaps one of the world's great architects alive today, Frank Gehry is the genius behind our little tower. I can say that he is a man who possesses a great creative genius. the ability to think big and to think bold, at the same time fully aware of the constraints, the pressures and the realities of a private developer. And it is a great partnership, and the building in some ways symbolizes that great partnership between architect and builder."

In some ways, however, it's not. Gilmartin explained in October 2008 how Forest City at times had to rein Gehry in, and also to assign another architect the interiors.

Great public use?

The third element: "A great public use." As Gilmartin stated, "Our vertical city... started as a truly private tower... We then along the way came to know that a the city was in need of a school in Downtown in the area of TriBeca.. And that by putting the first public school on private land... we could create something well beyond a private residence... It is truly in some ways an important civic project for downtown, and we have two great plazas designed by Field Operations that, again, contribute to the civic nature of 8 Spruce Street."

That sounds a little like Bruce Ratner calling the purchase of the Nets a "civic venture."

As it happens, the public use aspect of the tower generated the some skepticism in New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's laudatory 2/10/11 review:
Mr. Gehry’s design is least successful at the bottom, where he was forced to plant his tower on top of a six-story base that will house a new public grammar school and one floor of hospital services — an odd coupling of private and public interests that was a result of political horse trading rather than any obvious benefit that would be gained from so close a relationship between the two.
Also, unmentioned is that the building took advantage of triple tax-exempt Liberty Bonds--federal subsidies--without delivering any subsidized housing in return.

The recession

Gilmartin, with some but not complete candor, also cited the effects of a "a great recession."

"Every project has a moment of truth." This project, she said, faced its moment of truth in the first quarter of 2009. "The world was coming undone. The financing of the building was at $680 million. Six lenders, 903 rental units. Purchased at the very height of the market in the construction industry in New York--a very scary prospect, not just for ourselves, as a public company. but for all of the lenders held the underlying mortgage."

What did they do? "We had to reconnect with the purpose of the building, with the stakeholders of the building, and the architect of the building and obviously, decapitating a great tower was obviously something you don’t want to discuss with a great architect like Frank Gehry."

"So we were at one point considering ceasing construction and capping it out at the 38th floor," she said. "And in May, just two months after we pondered that reality, we decided to move forward with the project. And it was a great moment not just for the building, but I think for Lower Manhattan, a sign yet again of its great resilience."

Well, "pondering that reality" meant they managed to wring concessions from the unions, which she didn't say, but the graphic she showed indicates.

Design, buzz, review

As the fifth element, Gilmartin cited the building's great design: "a beautiful skin, great finishes, wonderful nooks and crannies, and a beautiful skyline view, all sky, water, air, and light."

The sixth ingredient, she said, was "a great buzz," and played a brief but loud video commercial for the building.

"And finally, a great city," she said. "The New York Times proclaimed that this building was perhaps the greatest skyscraper to be built in half a century."

Well, let's assume she implied "in this city," because that's what Ouroussoff wrote:
Only now, as the building nears completion, is it possible to appreciate what Mr. Gehry has accomplished: the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen's CBS building went up 46 years ago.
She closed--cut off in the video--by saying that more than 500 units have been leased, "and we're very hopeful and optimistic that the evolving story of 8 Spruce will continue to be as dramatic and positive as it has been today."

There was no opportunity for questions. While the session was billed as lasting 15 minutes, the day's schedule was already behind, and this event  took five minutes.

FCR support for the summit

While Forest City Ratner was not a sponsor the first summit in 2010, it was among the sponsors this year, as indicated in the graphic at right. Representatives of the sponsors frequently participated by introducing programs or moderating them.

However, other than a representative of the Rockefeller Foundation, the lead funder, and a welcome from the developer of the building where the summit was held, I don't think any other sponsor got the spotlight the way Gilmartin did.

Was Ratner's sponsorship connected to Gilmartin's appearance? Correlation is not causation. But Forest City often wants value for its promotional spending.

Issues of livability--or competitive advantage?

The MAS Summit was aimed to "provide a platform for the leaders behind New York City’s physical, economic and social landscape to debate the major opportunities and challenges affecting New York City’s livability today."

Yes, 8 Spruce Street is an impressive building and a contributor to the "iconic New York City skyline." However, it contributes mainly to the livability of people like the couple featured in a recent Time Out New York item on the building: a hedge fund trader and a PR/marketing consultant, paying $6,045 a month.

Then again, as the correspondent for Untapped New York observed, "the [summit] proceedings shifted the Summit’s central theme from livability to the necessity of reestablishing New York’s competitive economic advantage." Maybe 8 Spruce Street fits in there.

If next year's summit consistently focuses on livability, and offers a few five-minute slots, why not invite the people behind Atlantic Yards Watch, a new citizen-driven effort aimed at enhancing livability?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…